Did anybody else cheer when Discovery touched down this afternoon? I certainly did. Despite the problems, it’s still an astonishing machine. I heard somebody on BBC News 24 commenting that SpaceShipOne cost far less and managed to get into space, but what they don’t know is that getting into orbit is an entirely different challenge from simply touching space and coming back down. This Boing Boing post sums up the difference in energy. I like the fact that the Shuttle comes under manual control once it drops under the speed of sound, and is, as the New York Times put it, ‘a brick with wings’. It’s the world’s most expensive glider.
As a matter of interest, the always-exuberantly-described X-Plane flight simulator has a Shuttle mode, and is the only simulator to model the physics of the flight in real-time rather than using lookup tables. You need a degree in user-interfaces as well as extensive flying knowledge to even get off the ground in that program, however.